On a hot, sunny Wednesday morning in Los Angeles, I woke up bright and early at 7:45 a.m. to hit the streets for my signature drink – an oat milk mocha with an extra shot of espresso – ready for my 9 a.m. call with Aint Afraid, a pair of Black hijabi musical artists, that just so happen to be twins. I’d spent the few days before listening to all of their songs and watching a bubbly Q&A they’d just recently dropped. When the time came, I got back in the house, turned the A/C wayyyy up, and got situated. At 9:01 on the dot, I answered my phone to the sound of not one, but two refreshingly enthusiastic voices.
It was already afternoon for Straingth and Wizdumb, who were already a few hours ahead of me time zone-wise. Their exuberant energy and joyful laughter quickly shook any bit of sleep out of me that might have survived the mocha I’d just downed. Although they prefer to keep personal details private, I had to at LEAST know their sign. “LEO!!” they yelled into the phone simultaneously with the correct amount of pride one would expect from the sign of the lioness. It’s only right.
When asked about their main musical influences, the first person who comes up is their mother, also an artist, who they say taught them the importance of artistic expression, whether musically or visually, from a young age. They pointed out that more than anything, their daily lives and the emotions they experience are the true source of inspiration for their music – but how long it takes to create differs each time.
“Art has always been all our life, so we don’t have a process, it just kind of happens. A line will come in our heads and boom we’ll start making a piece. Once we get a piece or a line, it just flows, it just falls out, one after the other. Like literally, God is inspiring the piece through us. Most times, it’s not like let me sit down and write something about this. So we’ll have a conversation about something. Let’s say perhaps we’re talking about the Black Panthers, which is a real life example – we’re learning more about the Black Panther movement at the moment. As we have conversations, we’ll say a line or a sentence or something, and it’ll start something in us, and then from that it’s like oooh, this could be a piece. A lot of people are like oh my god you guys come out with something like every week, you’re just so talented, I’m like yo, this is something I’ve been working on for three years or sometimes three minutes. It’s always different.”
One of the girls’ latest singles, the beautifully powerful anthem “We Will Breathe”, is a perfect example of how their musical influences and artistic process play off of each other. The chorus incorporates the line “by any means necessary,” a nod to the sentiment popularized by Malcolm X and the Black Panthers about Black liberation in the United States.
I asked the duo if there were any specific artists they look up to, to which they replied, “Just good music. Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston … one of the highlight songs growing up was ‘We Are The World’ (a charity single from 1985 written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie featuring some of the biggest stars of the time).”
Having had various artistic personas over the years and performing locally all over the girls were already used to being spotted out by fans in their community. Now with over 125k followers on Instagram, I was curious to find out what it’s been like for them being in the spotlight and sharing it as twin sisters.
The girls said, “Allah has blessed us with a well-known reputation, people know us for the good work that we do, alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah. All of our life we’ve kind of shared that. It’s always been that way. It feels like a team. For us, it’s not fame, it’s impact, you know? I don’t ever want to put myself in a place of feeling self-important, I never want to do that. But what I will say is that success is really good, because I’m reaching so many people with my good messages.”
Despite their wide reach and impact, like so many young Black Muslim women in the United States and around the world, they’ve endured a lifetime of pushback simply for being who they are. Whether it be from members of the Muslim community for being Black, from the Black community for being Muslim, or either one for being women, their layered identities leave them on the fringe of each group:
“The religion is not anti-Black… Some people choose to be anti-Black, and we’ve lived this all our lives. For me, it’s really hard being a Black Muslim woman, and a Black Muslim person, but especially a Black Muslim woman because all the communities you identify with end up not supporting you totally, or they’re against you in some way and you never find acceptance. Just as a child in elementary school, people were telling us we couldn’t be Muslim because we were Black… or they would ask are we converts. The only reason they would do that is because we were Black. Even the Black community, when they see me, they first see me as a Muslim, they don’t even see me as a Black person. I can keep going… even in the women’s community, they’re like ‘if you’re about women’s rights, take the scarf off!!’”
Thankfully, the stress of being pressured to fit in a box has not dimmed the light of these incredible young women in the slightest. “We’ve always been pushed out but that has not made us bitter people, as you can see. I love the world. I love the people. Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah, Allah has given us a space, a platform, where now we can educate the world and open people’s minds. There are even people in Africa and other places now that feel represented because of our platform.”
In fact, Aint Afraid now has an additional connection to Africa that goes beyond having fans in the continent – the twins are spearheading an effort to build a school in Gambia. In collaboration with the SPOT Project, they are currently raising funds between now and September 4, 2020 to build an academy that will provide free education to local girls aged 6-15 years old. This instance of activism is just one of many ways the girls seek to make an impact. Much of their work offline centers around building community, addressing local gentrification, and helping make connections between the arts and political strategy.
What else are the girls up to when they’re not making anthems and learning? Lately, they’ve been trying to cultivate a more sustainable diet. They said, “We were already exposed to corruption in the food industry and whatever ’cause our mother taught us about it growing up, but we decided to take our own journey to understanding more about what’s in our food, and what the human body needs.” Although they’re not totally vegan and don’t say they necessarily want to pressure others to take it on, they spoke about the power of implementing more whole, plant-based foods into one’s diet – especially for vulnerable people. “Just starting from changing our diet in the Black community, our community can thrive,” they said.
Aint Afraid’s latest release, “When I Praise Him,” honors Allah through carefully crafted raps and beautiful vocals. Between their thoughtful songs and amazing projects, the duo is an unstoppable force.
It’s so hard to sit and talk to these girls without walking away feeling like, okay, there’s hope. We’ve all encountered people who know exactly what they’re worth and are very sure of themselves and it can be intimidating. The twins, however, are so grounded in their purpose as artists and leaders, you can’t help but think mashallah. The girls of Aint Afraid are very, very impressive and we here at Muslim can’t wait to see what lies in store for them in the coming years.